This page outlines the relationship between autism and language. As autism is a spectrum condition with a huge amount of variety, autistic people’s preferred communication style will differ from person to person. While some autistic people may be non-speaking, it’s important to recognize this doesn’t mean they are incapable of communication.
To learn more about autism and language development, the different methods of communication autistic people may use and how to meet this halfway, check our resources below
When looking online for information about autism, language and communication, how do I know what sources I can trust?
These days we can easily access lots of valuable information and resources online. However, it is important that we identify key, reliable and trustworthy sources of information. There might be local support groups in your area or even online on social media sites such as Facebook. These can be useful places to go to for advice. Linking in with people who have been in a similar situation to you can be a great first step when looking for support. You can also look to trustworthy websites such as
- Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT)
- National Autistic Society (NAS),
- Middletown Centre for Autism
for guidance and advice as well.
When looking online, be careful that the information you are looking at is reliable. It is important that any interventions you find are evidence based. Sometimes, if you feel like you are struggling to find something that works, you may feel like you are willing to try anything to help your child. It can be a good idea to go back to your trustworthy sources of information mentioned above and ask if anyone has any experience with that intervention or strategy etc.? You should also check with your GP or Speech and Language Therapist if they are familiar with what you have come across online.
Why do some autistic people struggle to understand non-literal language?
Non-literal language is used in everyday communication. We use phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “I have a frog in my throat”, in our conversations. Autistic people can find this type of language confusing. One possible explanation for this may be that autistic people are strong visual communicators. While we all engage areas of our visual processing systems while we communicate, autistic people tend to access and use the visual systems in the brain in order to interpret all of the information that they hear. If you are using your visual system to picture these phrases or colloquialisms that come up in conversation it can become very confusing and difficult to get past this. For many autistic people they have to independently learn what people actually mean when they use these phrases and that can take quite a lot of time and effort. It can be useful to create visuals to explain what common phrases using non-literal language mean in order to help. You must be aware that if you are using non-literal language or even being sarcastic in your conversation with an autistic person, it can be difficult for them to understand or pick up on.
What is echolalia and why does my child engage in it?
Echolalia is a repetitive communication. With echolalia, an individual might repeat a phrase or even a whole chunk of communication. An individual might repeat something they have heard immediately, or the repetition could be delayed, repeating the communication later that day or even on a subsequent day. Echolalia can be a part of language development; it can act as a stepping stone towards learning more about language. People might engage in echolalia as a mechanism for remembering the context or situation in which a specific phrase is used. Gradually, over time, the individual will begin to alter how they use these words to fit more into their everyday language. In the context of autism, echolalia is a different way of learning and communication during language development.
What is Pica and how can a Speech and Language Therapist help?
Pica is an eating disorder which involves the consumption of non-food items. It is important to talk to your GP and healthcare team about this. A Speech and Language Therapist might play in role in the multi-disciplinary treatment of Pica. A Speech and Language Therapist would focus on supporting the person to understand the difference between food and non-food items and investigating the point of view of the person who is experiencing Pica.
What is Verbal Stimming?
Verbal Stimulatory behaviour or verbal stimming describes how someone might repeat a word or a phrase or a noise in order to regulate their environment. If an autistic person finds their environment to be overwhelming, they might ‘stim’, as it is often referred to, in order to soothe themselves in some way. It is important to understand that this behaviour serves a purpose for the individual and if you aim to reduce or stop that behaviour, it could increase the individual’s anxiety. Stimming is a key part of autism and understanding what a stim is expressing can be helpful towards their language development.